Poverty

Would God’s provisions in the Torah for the poor solve the problem of poverty in society? I don’t think so. Even Messiah said as much:

“For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” (10) But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. (11)”For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. Mat 26:9-11

On the one hand, it seems as though (in a perfect world) we should all be equal in every regard, including finances. But scripture is clear that this is not the case, nor (dare I say) even the will of God. But, it’s scary (for some) to think that it’s God’s will that they are poor or struggling. On the other hand, we must keep in mind that we DO live in a fallen world that is entrenched in sin, pain, and death. As Believers, it is our duty to seek “tikkun olam” or repairing the world. We become the active hands that God uses to accomplish His purposes. When we are obedient to His Word, we reflect His image to a dying world. We bring about restoration one life at a time.

Some think that we must completely level the playing field and make everything fair. This thinking leads to a socialistic or communistic mindset. But this position fails in every model we have seen. The truth is that we (as mere humans) cannot make this type of society work. There are still poor people in this model and usually that number is strikingly higher than in other models. So, the problem increases exponentially instead of diminishing. Therefore, teaching people that it is God’s will that we should all be equal financially is a lie. Those that teach that believers should all be rich (because they equate that with blessing—-another lie), have bought into a false mindset. It stems from Greek thinking, not Hebrew.

What is the purpose of this apparent contradiction? Basically, we are looking at 2 competing mindsets:

  1. God loves everybody (He is no respecter of persons). God is fair. Therefore, we are all equal in every way. This implies that there should be no poor people in our communities. We must be doing something wrong if they are present.
  2. God loves everybody. While He is no “respecter of persons”, He is sovereign. The means that His will and thoughts are above ours. If it suits His purposes for someone to be poor or even blind, that is His prerogative. He is the King. This doesn’t diminish His love for each one of us. We are equal before Him as far as salvation and redemption, but how He accomplishes this in each one of us is up to Him. God is NOT fair —– at least not according to our manmade standards. God is King.

The first position is Greek thinking. Everything has to make logical sense to our finite minds. Everything also has a neat box or framework that it must “fit” into; this makes us feel safe and comfortable. It also produces VERY black and white doctrines; there is no room for “grey” areas or (seeming) contradictions.

The second position is how a Hebrew views the Bible and God. The bottom line is that we DO NOT know everything. We cannot place God in a box. He is WILD and we cannot tame Him! This is scary to many people. But what we do know is that what He reveals to us about Himself makes this “wild” God TRUSTWORTHY. I have no need to try to tame Him or CONTAIN Him into a comfortable set of doctrines. The minute I think I have a handle on Him, is the minute He takes me by surprise. Oh, YHWH is EXCITING!!! (What more could a bride want in her lover?!)

In other words, where my finite mind “sees” contradiction ———- that is usually where I meet YHWH! This frustrates the heck out of our Greek thought processes. But where I can become comfortable is in the contradictions or conflict. That may seem strange at first (especially to Christians), but that is the very ESSENCE of Jewish and Hebraic bible study. Those questions that no one is “supposed” to ask—— those ARE the very questions YHWH desires us to examine.

Unfortunately, too many of us find ourselves feeling like the man in this parable:

‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.‘  (13)  “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?  (14)  ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  (15)  ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’  (16)  “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” Mat 20:12-16

Yeshua could state that we will always have “poor” people in our communities for two interconnected reasons. One, He is Sovereign; He is King! What He deems necessary to accomplish His will and purpose is completely up to Him. I have no say so in the matter. Period. Two, He has chosen to give us a peek behind the curtain as to why this is the case, if we are simply willing to look. The poor are “always” with us for OUR benefit, not His. We are meant to have hearts that seek out ways to help those less fortunate. The Holy One is giving us an opportunity to be a light to others. It also tests our hearts and motives. This not only helps the one in need; it helps us! If we were all the same and in the same station in life, how would we learn anything? How would we learn to deny ourselves and elevate our brother/sister? How would we not become anything other than SELFISH if we expected everyone else to have no more or no less than I do?

YHWH puts the “tension” there precisely because He DOES love EACH one of us—– poor or rich. You each serve a purpose. And if we seek true fulfillment, which can only be accomplished by functioning in our purpose, then we MUST find joy in the fact that our wild and awesome God “sees” us where we are. He loves us equally, but deals with us as individuals and as a nation.

This year at our Passover Seder we dressed as biblical characters. Most had determined exactly who they were going to be and dressed for that role. At one point during the Seder, those dressed stood and told the room about their “character”. Everyone recognized those present: Ruth, Obed, Tamar, Judah, Moses, Zipporah, Deborah, etc.

But when it came time for my husband to speak, he didn’t attach a specific “person” from the Bible with his character. He simply said that he represented all the myriads of unnamed or unmentioned “bystanders” in each biblical narrative. He described how in each account, there were people present that were no less important in the eyes of God, but yet their story remained hidden to the world. Some would assume it is because their life didn’t have as much of an impact as the life of Jacob or Daniel. But, these millions were real people with real lives; real issues; real love; real children; real tears; real laughter. And we don’t know their names.

As I sat and thought about what my husband said, I realized the magnitude of his words even if he didn’t. Most likely, you and I are just like those myriads. And sadly, some don’t think it is very “fair”; and thus seek recognition. But that is the very thing we must overcome: SELF. We need to (I need to) focus more on what it really means for YHWH to be my KING. And He is the only good KING.

The Torah makes many provisions for the poor, because YHWH cares deeply for them. They are to be taken care of and treated well. But the Torah doesn’t provide a system that completely eradicates poverty. Some people are born into this station. Some get there due to financial disaster (that is either in or out of their control). Some people overcome this “struggle”, some do not. There are many reasons people come in and out of “poverty”.

What the Torah does provide is the ideal way in which we “help” the needy. It’s not a welfare state where people just begin to “live” off those willing to work. It keeps them fed and able to enter into worship of the One True God, YHWH. Provisions are made for them to glean the fields so they are not begging food, tithes are given to them so they may rejoice in the festivals of God, and the sacrificial requirements are reduced to affordable types so they can meet YHWH in worship at the Tabernacle and Temple. They can even enter into a servant (slave) role serving one of their brethren to pay off debts or regain their former situation of life. The Torah even protects this arrangement so that it is not abused by either party. But, the poor remain among us.

“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  (14)  and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14 

We have an opportunity to be blessed in the “Olam Haba” or the World to Come when we open our hand to the poor; and they likewise receive the blessing here and now. Who knows, before our earthly lives end, the tables may be reversed. And that is the point. This is just another occasion for us to fulfill a mitzvah or commandment and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are each a vital material in the construction of God’s House. This makes us echad or ONE.

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